In 2023 in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice will occur on Wednesday 21 June at 15:58 BST.
What is the summer solstice?
The summer solstice occurs in June in the Northern Hemisphere and marks midsummer: the ‘longest day’ and ‘shortest night’ of the year. One of my big bugbears is hearing it called the first day of Summer – it’s not, on this day, the number of hours of daylight is at its maximum, while the number of hours of the night is at its minimum and after this day, the sun will begin its descent once more and the hours of daylight will begin to shorten – hence Midsummer, the middle of Summer! (rant over lol)
Most people consider the summer solstice to be a day, it is in reality an exact moment in time that falls upon that day. This moment comes when whichever hemisphere you’re in is most tilted towards the Sun.
What is a solstice? The astronomical definition*
Our Earth rotates on its axis once each day, producing the cycle of day and night.
At the same time, the Earth moves around the Sun on its orbit over the course of a year.
However, the axis of rotation of the Earth is not lined up with the axis of motion around the Sun. Instead, it is tilted slightly at 23.44°.1
This tilt means that during one half of the year the North side of the Earth is tilted slightly towards the Sun and the South is tilted away. For the other half of the year the reverse is true.
At the exact moment that the northern hemisphere is most tilted towards the Sun, the northern hemisphere experiences its summer solstice. The southern hemisphere, by contrast, has its winter solstice.
About six months later, the northern hemisphere has its winter solstice while the southern hemisphere is at its summer solstice.
These key points in the year, along with the equinoxes, help to determine the seasons on Earth.
*taken from “Summer Solstice” by the Royal Museum
Why do we celebrate the solstice?
The solstices are astronomical events, occurring in line with the suns relationship with the earth and so occur around the same dates every year, unlike the other pagan celebrations based around the farming calendar, the fire festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, which are not astronomical so would have been flexible, more seasonal, and possibly based around the times of the first full moons after the equinoxes and solstices.
The dates have been put into the wheel of the year to give us a frame of reference to make it easy to follow and celebrate. I feel these times are much more open to personal experience and can be celebrated when the season feels “right”, even when is more convenient for us.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun’s movement appears to “stand still” (as seen from Earth) and pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.
Known as Litha by pagans, The name “Litha” is traced back to an old Anglo-Saxon word for the month of June, and came into use as a Wiccan name for this Sabbat in the second half of the 20th century. However, many Pagans continue to use the more traditional “Midsummer.”
Litha pronunciation: LEE-tha
Themes: abundance, growth, masculine energy, love, magic
Also known as: Midsummer, Midsummer’s Eve, Gathering Day, St. John’s Day, St. John’s Eve, Summer Solstice, Alban Hefin, Feill-Sheathain*
However, this is one definition that I cannot seem to find the true answer behind, as there are many references to meanings derived from old words for “calm” and “gentle” or “navigable“, because in this month the calm breezes are gentle which allowed smooth sailing. Or a variation of Letha, which is borrowed from Líða, the Old English name of the months roughly corresponding to June and July.
I have even found one definition, from South Africa, that says the name Litha is of Xhosa origin and means “a light shinning brightly“. So I guess, like many of our old traditions, it’s open to interpretation and what resonates for you!
And so the summer solstice is a time to pause… rejoice… its the peak of all life here in the northern hemisphere… we are at our closest to that big fire ball sun – maximum warmth, life, expansiveness!
Our ancestors would have spent the Spring planning, toiling, preparing, sowing seeds and crops, I know for me right now it’s such a busy time in the garden and as a hedgerow herbalist – so much to forage and make! This year I held off sowing my seeds until the Spring equinox, and it paid off! All my seedlings took, and have grown strong so I have found it was definitely worth cultivating patience at Imbolc!!
At Litha, our farming Ancestors could kick back and relax a bit, knowing Mother Nature was doing her thing!… its no coincidence that we still all pause for a break in the summer… the schools break-up, we take our holidays. Now is a social time, a time for community and connection, to see and feel the abundance all around us, to notice not only the growth of nature, our gardens, maybe our crops, but also bring attention to our own spiritual growth… how are the intentions and seeds that we planted earlier in the year within us flourishing?
All around the world, all cultures and traditions celebrate the solstices in some way, here in the UK we can trace back as far as Stonehenge, which dates back over 5,000 years, meaning that honouring this special time has been part of our culture, heritage and in our psyches since the beginning of our history. The Sun is at its maximum power now, energy is high and it is a time for rejoicing, a period of pause when we can bask in its warmth, knowing that the crops are ripening in the fields, the frantic fertile period of Spring has passed, life is filled with abundance. The Solstice was a time of celebration and a break from the norm. Many cultures believed that magic took place on the night of the Summer Solstice, with fairies showing themselves to humans, while evil spirits were dispelled from their lives. Different cultures around the world celebrate the Summer Solstice in different ways, but with the same theme recurring, celebrating the energy and feel good factor of the warmth and light! (more info on how other cultures celebrate can be found in my 2020 Litha blog)
As with all our Pagan festivals and rituals, there is no one “right” way to celebrate, it’s all about doing what feels right for you.
Although the sun is at it’s peak, for me I can feel that there is an air of melancholy, as we know that it will begin it’s descent into the darker days from now on, and so personal rituals that involve not only manifestation, but also release, are appropriate. Although I am not a fan of the excess heat that begins to manifest from this time onwards into the late Summer, so I am looking forward to Mabon!! (my 2022 Mabon blog can be read here)
But back to the Summer Solstice! It is considered one of the most joyful Sabbats of the year. This is when people gathered (and still gather) at Stonehenge as well as at many other sacred sites around the country for day and night long celebrations watching the sun align and shine through a certain point in the structure. In its most basic essence, this day is a celebration of the sun and that it is still shining on us. It will go out one day and we should revel in the fact that we were born at this point in the Earth’s evolution. The solstice also holds deeper nature metaphors for life, fertility, and the cycle of time and seasons. No matter what your view of spirituality or nature, the sun and summertime is always a thing worth celebrating.
We can give thanks and feel gratitude for all the abundance that we have in our lives. Even in the darkest of nights there is always a glimmer of light, and we can always find something or someone to show appreciation for.
Get outside! Take advantage of the longest day and go for walks (preferably without your phone), go to the beach, to any park or forest or even the smallest park can suffice if you’re city locked. There is more and more evidence of how being out in nature helps our mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
This longest night is a time to celebrate the seasons and set intentions for the months to come. Sit up all night, watch the sun set and then rise again.
Spend time with the flowers. Garden, buy flowers and arrange them all over your home, or explore a botanical garden. Flowers are symbols of the solstice and have magical energies, and are linked to the Fae on this night, as with all the nights of transition and liminality.
Hang out with friends, chat, drum, share food, meditate, leave offerings for the fairies, have fun!
The sun is the symbol of the fire element of the solstice. Set your intentions with a fire ritual. Some cultures would light bonfires and dance all night until the flames reduced to embers. Then they would jump over the burning coals to make their wishes for the months ahead. A more modern and practical ritual can include lighting a candle, setting your wish or intention, and blowing it out, sound familiar? Even our birthday rituals hold pagan roots…and even more importantly, as you make your wish, speak it aloud!… words are spells and have power.
It’s easy to bring the element of fire into our gardens these days with a small firepit or chiminea. If you are celebrating outside with a fire, burn plants like chamomile, mugwort, st. john’s wort, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon balm and lavender for good health, protection and healing, as well as keeping the biting insects away!!
Ground yourself with yoga, meditation, or take up Qi Gong. There’s strong sun energy brewing on the solstice, which can feel intense for some. Help ground yourself with meditative rituals that connect you to mind, body and spirit. Go to a class, or practice a Qi Gong or yoga tutorial or meditation visualisation on youtube, listen to meditation music, and try to do these rituals outside if you can. (See my Litha meditations on YouTube, or listen on my podcast here)
If there’s a time to cleanse your crystals in sunlight, it’s now, around the time of the Solstice. Let the energy of the sun purify your crystals from built-up negative energy in the longest sunlight of the year and then sleep with the crystals near your bed when you go to bed at night. For extra grounding, hold onto your black grounding stones like obsidian, black tourmaline, and shungite.
Solstice night is a perfect time for a ritual bath. Light candles, fill your bath with salts and essential oils, even flower petals, or add essential oils to your shower and hang flowers and herbs in bundles from the shower head, or just let them float in the bath – my favourite bath herb bundles at the moment include rosemary, lavender, lemon balm and mugwort. Pamper yourself with a beautiful homemade rose petal infused oil and make simple body scrubs from sugar and honey to keep your summer skin in perfect silky condition.
Be a Kitchen Witch!
This is a busy time for the herb witch, and a great time to infuse potions and tinctures for summer. Bake cakes infused with honey (the symbol of the June moon), flower treats, and homemade beauty products made from plants and flowers. Make flower garlands for your hair. Decorate your altar, your home and your garden. Make smudge sticks – you can find more information on this on my YouTube channel, my podcast and in lots of my blogs from last year. Create a special loose incense from flowers and plants in your garden to burn at the solstice and future celebrations, or a personal oil blend using your favourite essential oils (remember always mix pure essential oils with a carrier oil before using it on your skin), or just make simple teas and cold infusions from the abundance of flowers.
However you celebrate, with family, or on your own, take some time to pause and find that stillness within.
We are all so busy “doing” all the things, that we forget to just stop, savour the moment, be present. The solstices give us the opportunity to do that.
Litha Blessings to you
Love and green blessings
Sam AuroraStar XXX